By Phil Wahba
NEW YORK Dec 1 Heavy discounting took a toll on
U.S. retail sales during the Thanksgiving weekend as shoppers
spent almost 3 percent less than they did a year earlier,
according to data released Sunday by an industry group.
That could be an indication of a more difficult season for
many retailers. One bright spot this weekend, according to the
data, was e-commerce as online sales soared.
The National Retail Federation estimated the average shopper
spent $407.02 over the weekend, or 3.9 percent less than during
the same weekend last year, because of lower prices it said
would persist through the rest of the season.
"Retailers will continue to aggressively promote their
in-store and online offerings, looking to entice today's very
budget-conscious and value-focused shopper," said NRF Chief
Executive Matthew Shay.
The NRF said 141 million people went shopping at least once
during the holiday weekend, up from 139 million last year. But
total spending was expected to reach $57.4 billion for the
four-day period - which includes Black Friday, the biggest
shopping day of the year - down 2.8 percent from $59.1 billion
over the same weekend in 2012.
The big deals will also dent profit margins, analysts said.
"Sales will go up, but gross margins are going to be down.
Doorbusters were what people were shopping for, more than the
regular-priced stuff," said Ron Friedman, retail practice leader
at the consulting firm Marcum LLP.
The Thanksgiving weekend is an early gauge of consumer mood
and intentions in a season that generates about 30 percent of
sales and nearly 40 percent of profit for retailers.
But many have given modest forecasts for the quarter.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc said it expects no growth in its
U.S. comparable sales, and Macy's Inc didn't raise its
full-year sales forecast despite strong numbers last quarter.
The shorter holiday period this year - there are six fewer
days between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared with 2012 -
prompted retailers to begin offering bargains on Monday, earlier
than usual, something Shay said likely pulled some sales forward
to the first part of the week.
The NRF stuck to its forecast for retail sales to rise 3.9
percent for the whole season.
Chad Hastings, the general manager of Town East Mall in
Mesquite, Texas, near Dallas, said shoppers were even more
focused this year on specials, noting a higher correlation
between the timing of doorbusters and the rise in shopper
traffic at his mall over the weekend.
"Retailers are doing whatever they can to get that wallet
share earlier," Hastings said. Town East Mall's anchor tenants
include J.C. Penney, Macy's and Sears.
E-COMMERCE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
ComScore Inc, an analytics firm, said U.S. online
sales rose 17.3 percent on Thanksgiving and Black Friday,
outpacing sales growth at brick-and-mortar stores. ComScore has
forecast a 16 percent jump in online sales for the season,
helped by greater use of mobile devices.
The most visited e-commerce sites in order were those of
Amazon.com Inc, eBay Inc, Walmart, Best Buy Co
Inc and Target Corp, comScore said.
Retailers are also being aggressive online as they look to
benefit from Cyber Monday, which falls on Dec. 2 this year.
Cyber Monday is the biggest sales day of the year for
J.C. Penney Co Inc and Macy's were among retailers
that had already begun their "Cyber Monday" sales on Sunday,
looking to keep the momentum going. Target was calling the
occasion "Cyber Week."
The NRF predicted 131 million Americans would shop online on
Cyber Monday, compared with 129 million last year.
RetailNext, an analytics firm, found overall shopper traffic
between Wednesday and Friday fell 5.2 percent and that customers
went to fewer different stores, doing more online research
But shoppers spent more money in the stores they did go to,
and Shelley Kohan, vice president, retail consulting at
RetailNext, said that a website good enough to make shoppers
want to visit a store is more crucial now than ever.
"Shoppers have more options," Kohan said.